What started as a side business is continuing to grow after its November appearance on the ABC show “Shark Tank.”
“Shark Tank” is a reality competition that features start-up business owners pitching their ideas to a panel of successful entrepreneurs. On Nov. 11, the show featured Justin Baer, founder of Collars & Co., a Bethesda-based professional menswear brand, who started his company last year as a side hustle to his marketing business.
Baer said the basis of the company is combining style and comfortability.
“What you wear matters,” he said. “Sometimes if you put something on and it looks great, you feel better and you perform better. When you feel better, you do better and I think that’s a big piece of the brand – helping guys look stylish but at the same time feeling comfortable.”
Baer, 40, said he always wore a dress shirt under a sweater and found it to be uncomfortable, so he decided to address the issue.
“It was always hot, and the sleeves would always get bunched up, when all you really cared about was the collar,” he said. “So, I said, I’m going to create, basically, a polo shirt but I’m going to put like a real firm dress collar on it so it’s going to give you that look of a dress shirt under a sweater but it’s really a comfortable four-way stretch polo.”
In 2021, the side business turned into a big idea after one of Baer’s two daughters persuaded him to post about his business on TikTok. The video went viral, gaining 1 million views and over 80,000 likes.
“Surely after the TikTok video went kind of viral, in a way, I knew there was something here,” he said. “I just felt the momentum and we just got tons of emails and DMs on Instagram. Like ‘oh my God, I’ve been waiting for this forever.’”
According to a press release from Collars & Co, the company signed on six-time major gold champion Sir Nick Faldo as the menswear brand’s first global brand ambassador.
“I discovered Collars & Co. a few months ago and became a genuine, repeat customer, so I’m delighted that I was asked to be the Global Brand Ambassador,” the golfer said in the release. “I always challenge myself to set the bar higher as a golfer, sports analyst, and a father. Now, my partnership with Collars & Co., once again, is taking things to the next level. The Dress Collar Polo helps me look great without worrying about wrinkles or dry cleaning, so I’m my most confident, engaged and best self.”
On a whim, Baer said he decided to take his idea on “Shark Tank” but thought it would only be a one in a million chance that he was able to get on the show. But after a year-long process, he got on.
“I filled out the forms, and I didn’t make long answers because I was like: This is probably never going to happen,” he said. “So, I put in fairly short answers to their questionnaire and they called me back and then started rounds of interviews.”
Baer said he was “fairly confident” going into the show. His business earned $5.4 million in revenue at the time of the show, he said.
“I think every entrepreneur walks in there having a good feeling about their business and feeling confident about it,” he said. “But at the same time, I was definitely nervous, I didn’t know how they were going to reach to it.”
After his episode aired, some social media comments labeled Baer “arrogant” and “rude.” Although there was interest from the Sharks, Baer pushed back on the valuation in the deal offered.
“I think they came out swinging early on and kind of put me on my heels, but I probably got a little carried away in some of the negotiation,” he said. “I was really trying to hold firm on the valuation, but at the end of the day I got the sense that the sharks were interested. Getting Mark [Cuban] and Peter [Jones] is huge, it was great. Maybe I got carried away a little but at the end of the day, it is television.”
Baer made a deal with Cuban and guest shark Jones, who jointly offered Baer a $300,000 investment and a $700,000 line of credit for 10% of Collars & Co.
Baer said the duo has been very engaged so far.
“Some nights I’ll be up until 1:30 in the morning kind of going back and forth with Mark,” he said. “So, it’s been a great deal, I’m happy we did it and I’m excited to see what comes next.”
Admiration for the company continues to grow. The company also posted a video of former NFL player Tiki Barber praising the brand. In the video barber described the shirts as “so comfortable.”
Baer has lived in Bethesda for the past 10 years and said he aims to expand the business into a brick-and-mortar location sometime next year. He said he currently has his eyes set on Bethesda Row.
Recently the business has expanded its men’s sweater line and added accessories and a women’s line of polo shirts.
“We just rolled out women’s [clothing] a few weeks ago, and so far the numbers look good,” she said. “So, we’ll probably start expanding that line as well. It’s a completely new market for us.”
Baer said the goal of the company is “to grow and try to make [Collars & Co.] potentially the next great brand.”